Patrick B. Kraemer / Keystone via AP

Blatter re-election was a tap-in, but will FIFA chief last extra time?

Analysis: Sepp Blatter's retained his presidency but rocky waters lie ahead for the world soccer body

It should have come as no surprise that even the mass arress of several current and former executive committee members could not derail the procession to re-elect Sepp Blatter to a fifth term as president of FIFA.

Indeed, the only drama to Friday’s election in Zurich was whether the limited dissent harnessed by Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein might cause Blatter to fall short of the two-thirds, or 140-vote, majority needed to ensure victory in the first round.

In the end, Blatter did face a second round of voting, only for Prince Ali to concede before the start of that ballot, which would have been decided by a simply majority.

Blatter may have long faced opposition from the most vociferous regional confederation in FIFA, the European nations who make up UEFA, but his firm grip on the African, Asian and North American confederations that made up 135 of the 209 delegates, has always rendered that opposition largely symbolic at an electoral level.

Prince Ali did draw enough votes to force the prospect of a second round, with 73 votes to Blatter’s 133. The challenger drew heavy support from UEFA, and some of the 10-person South American CONMEBOL delegation, normally loyal to Blatter, but feeling abandoned in the wake of the breaking scandal and arrests. 

But with only a majority required in the second round, Prince Ali presumably knew he could not leach enough votes away from Blatter’s core support to do more than delay the inevitable. 

There were notable dissenters to the voting patterns, as the U.S. and Canada publicly broke from the CONCACAF support of Blatter, while Australia, another country bruised by a World Cup bidding process now under criminal investigation in Switzerland, did not go along with Asia’s mass support of the incumbent.

U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati was the first person to offer Prince Ali a conciliatory hug as he finished his concession speech. Gulati must now deal with the consequences of having so openly confronted the autocratic Blatter. Though given the actions of his own country’s justice department this week, he may have felt he had nothing to lose in taking a stand.

Yet other individuals had spoken up too. David Gill, the former Manchester United chief executive, shared an awkward handshake on the dais with Blatter as he was inducted as a FIFA vice-president, having publicly promised to resign if Blatter was re-elected hours later. And upon presenting the FIFA 2014 financial report to the congress, earlier in the day, Domenico Scala, FIFA’s audit and compliance chair, pointedly, if rather impotently, noted that, “It is the leader’s tone at the top that ensures it is embedded at all levels. This tone must be honest.”

Prince Ali, too, speaking prior to the vote, had tried to make a last minute appeal to the urgent realities of the external pressure FIFA is now under.

“We cannot ignore the clamor outside our doors,” he said. “Now is the time to show the world that we are hungry for the world’s respect.”

But at least for now, the majority of delegates preferred the familiar paternalistic vision of Blatter, who (again) promised to serve for just four more years while appealing to the spirit of “evolution” and dismissing the need for revolution.

"Join us to put FIFA back on the right track, where the boat will stop rocking and go placidly into port,” Blatter told the delegates.

Still, there may be a lot more rocking before port, as the arrested former executive committee members begin talking to police, and other international agencies become involved in the widening investigation. 

On Friday, Britain’s Serious Fraud Office announced an inquiry into transactions through the British banking system, while Jack Warner the disgraced former CONCACAF president, spoke at a political rally in his Trinidad home Thursday to wonder aloud why Blatter had not been arrested. 

Warner, a loose cannon at the best of times and now facing prosecution and possible extradition to the U.S., explained the widespread support for Blatter beyond the traditional superpower countries by noting that “you don’t bite the hand that feeds you” — a nod to Blatter’s extensive, and strategic, largesse in support of the many developing world federations that in turn bolster his individual power.

And despite Blatter’s return, he is now inextricably linked to an era of corruption. English Football Association head Greg Dyke, who voted for Prince Ali, summed up a growing feeling within FIFA circles that even a figure of Blatter’s legendary survival skills is now on borrowed time:

“I think the events of this week have turned him into a diminished figure, and I can’t see him lasting more than a year or two.”

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FIFA, Soccer

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